Going Home

I haven’t posted a short story in a while, so I thought you might like this one.  My large extended family lives on each side of the Atlantic and even after all the years, there is still a fine thread which goes back and forth across the ocean joining us together.

My Aunt Jean was one of my grandfather’s many sisters, she followed a brother and a sister to Canada in the 1920s. She always said you have to go back before you really know where you belong. Her life in Canada was the subject of many, many family stories, some of which might possibly have been true.

The picture is because “moose in the lake” was one of my favourite of all those stories, along with black bears in the trash bins and mistaking a skunk and babies for the family black and white cat and her kittens.

 Going Home

The wind ripped the handkerchief she had been waving from her fingers and carried off high above the liner’s bows.

Despite the cold she could not bring herself to go below, she stood by the rail and watched the shore slipped further and further away as the evening tide carrying them out. She knew when she came on deck tomorrow green waters would have turned to blue and the land would be a memory.

She had always promised herself she would go home, go back to her mother and all her brothers and sisters. Every part of her had ached for the familiar faces and familiar places of home.

Eventually she could bear the aching need no longer and she had packed her case and fled back to the land of her birth.

Once there, softly and quietly the familiar had wrapped itself about her. Remembered sights and smells and sounds had woven in and out of her senses, drawing her back to the places she had left when she had begun her great adventure.

She had come home and home had welcomed her with open arms, but now she was leaving them again, crossing back over the great ocean.

As the light finally faded and she could no longer see the dark shadow of the land, her thoughts turned to the wooden cabin by the lake.

The fruit harvest would over and soon the trees would blaze with the colours of autumn, heralding the promise of the long white winter to come.

He would be there, waiting.

When she left, she believed she was going back to where she belonged, but now the ship was carrying her back to him and to the land she knew she would now forever more call home.

 © Bev Allen 2015

 

Obscenity

alpine-1325195_960_7201Did you wonder what I’ve done now when you saw the above title?

Surprisingly I managed to reload the “Solemn Curfew” collection without a hitch despite being a bit distracted at the moment. My dearly loved god mother passed away recently and left me her books, all 4000 of them. I defy anyone to behave in a normal and rational fashion when faced with that many books. And these aren’t paper backs, they are a life time of careful and considered collecting. They arrive next Thursdays – there maybe demands for walls to be demolished to make room.

However, back to the obscenity of the title. This is another story about my grandmother. Whatever else could be said of her, and there is much which could be said, she was never boring.

Obscenity

To Mother it was an idea of genius, but my ten year old self was filled with consternation. And, glancing up at my father and seeing the expression of horror on his face and the droop of the cigarette permanently glued to his lip, I guessed I was not alone.

“She’ll enjoy it,” Mother stated firmly, “And yes, you do both have to come! It’s going to be our birthday present to her.”

Gifts for my grandmother were a source of anxiety for my mother. The wish to delight a mother-in-law who although difficult, tactless, obstinate and opinionated, was also generous and loving, taxed her imagination and worried her.

I had already worked out Gran’s needs were few and her tastes ran towards the sentimental and the tacky, but to my mother, convent educated with exquisite taste and beautiful manners, Gran was a mystery.

I watched her try and balance her own need for refinement against Gran’s delight in china poodles, crocheted toilet roll covers and pictures of children with huge sad eyes accompanied by a dog of equally melancholic attitude.

This year Mother was triumphant, she had come up with the perfect solution; we would take Gran to see a film. Not just any old film, but an all singing, all dancing block buster of sugary sentiment and sweet mawkishness which must appeal to the owner of all those doggy ornaments.

Father protested and I sulked, but Mother was not listening, the night was going to be the perfect treat for one unpredictable old lady and like it or not, we were going to be there to see her enjoyment and Mother’s victory.

Young as I was, I could smell the whiff of danger even as we left the house.

My worst fears were confirmed when we got to Gran’s house and she was sitting primly in her chair wearing her duty outfit, the one reserved for attending such functions as funerals and visits to her solicitor. Her best black coat was buttoned to the neck, her hands were gloved and she was wearing her “going out” lipstick, a shade of red just past pillar box.

Seated beside me in the back of Father’s car, her “good” hand bag firmly clamped to her knees she fixed the back of Mother’s head with a basilisk stare.

“I have not been to a picture house since 1939,” she announced in arctic tones.

“Good God,” Mother ejaculated, startled into giving Gran an opening, “Why not?”

“I had no desire to see war news,” she replied, “Nor the sort of silly film they thought proper for us ignorant people.”

I watched mother stiffen. Gran was uneducated, forced to leave school at the age eleven to work in the Nottingham lace mills, but she was not ignorant, far from it, but claiming to be so was one of her greatest weapons in the game of being difficult.

“That was a long time ago,” Mother said, brightly, “You’ll find it’s all very different now and I’m sure you’ll like this film. It’s in colour you know.”

All this revelation got was a sniff.

“You must have heard of it,” Mother continued, by now assailed with doubts.

“I have,” Gran admitted, “Lilly was speaking about it. She’s seen it five times.”

I chanced a sideways look at her face and caught a hint of anticipation on her face. She was intrigued; her best friend and closest rival Mrs Rhodes had seen the film and while I would have bet my sixpence pocket money Gran hadn’t allowed her to gossip about it as much as she would have liked, sufficient information had been imparted to convince Gran she might be missing something.

Perhaps this hadn’t been such a very bad idea after all.

I knew I was going to hate the film when the opening shot ranged over some field and a lady began to sing. There were a load of nuns as well and I found myself feeling very sorry for Mother if she’d had to listen to singing like that all day in the convent.

By the time a lot of very silly children began to add to the noise I had finished my chocolates and was aware of just how uncomfortable my seat was. I did a great deal of wriggling and sighing and kicking the back of the seat in front to see how long it would be before its owner turned around.

Gran was between me and Mother, so I got away with all this. Finally the boredom and the darkness made my eyes grow heavy and I slipped into sleep.

I woke up when Gran shook me.

“Stand up,” she snapped.

I stumbled to my feet and realised the national anthem was playing and everyone was beginning to leave the cinema. The cool night air woke me up and I began to take notice of the adults.

“What did you think?” Mother asked father with a bright smile.

He just looked at her like a man who had been in pain for the last hour or so.

“Well I thought it was good,” she said with false gaiety, “The scenery was lovely. Did you enjoy it, Millie?”

“I did not,” Gran replied firmly, “It was the most disgusting exhibition I ever saw.”

Even Father seemed stunned by this pronouncement and I bitterly regretted going to sleep. What had I missed?

“Allowing a young girl like that to marry a man old enough to be her father,” Gran continued, “Disgraceful behaviour. Utter filth! I’m surprised they were allowed to make a film about it.”

Mother’s jaw dropped.

“And I’m ashamed of you, Alice, allowing your child to see it! It was obscene. I am only glad the lamb slept through the worst of it.”

With this she swept me passed the posters of Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, covering my eyes to protect my innocence.

Bev Allen © 2015-2017

 

A Solemn Curfew and Other Dark Tales Cover

Available now on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited

Amazon US

Amazon UK

 

 

Story Time

I’ve been having a few problems with this self publishing business. While I don’t believe computers are worked by the magic fairies who live in the back of the hard drive and live on the biscuit crumbs they find stuck in the key board, I am inclined to push the wrong buttons, panic, push even wronger (yes, I know that isn’t a word, but I like it) buttons and then spend the rest of the day sobbing into said key board, possibly providing salty goodness to the fairies I don’t believe in.

It is all being sorted, but the anthology will be down until 23rd of this month, BUT I will get you “The Tattooed Tribes” on time (6th March) as promised, provided I don’t have another button moment.

As I am now forbidden to press anything without supervision, it should all go smoothly.

In the meantime, here’s a short story for your Wednesday. I call these short pieces “coffee time stories” because they should fill the time it takes to drink a coffee, no more.

This one is about a couple of my great aunts. Jean emigrated to Canada back in the 1920’s, but the family never lost touch and this is about one of the times she came home to England. The very last time.

 

The Last One Left

 

They were playing “do you remember” and I listened, rapt, as they recalled lives and names that were little more than twigs on the family tree of my knowledge.

Even the passing of many years could not keep the whisper of South London from Jean’s Canadian accent, an echo from their childhood which still rang clear and true in May’s voice.

Here at the end of the twentieth century I sat in the airport and listened to stories from its beginning; and to others from the nineteenth century told to them and now told to me, while overhead the great jets that had not even been thought of when they were born, thundered the news of their arrivals and departures.

They sat side by side, one arm around the other’s waist as they had in those sepia pictures I had of them as children. They were the last two of my great grandmother’s long brood to arrive and now they were the last remaining. As I watched them it seemed as if years fell away and, for a moment in time, two very old ladies faded away and were replaced by two little girls in identical white dresses.

The demands of the announcer brought the stories too an end and I helped Jean to the wheel chair.

“Damn thing,” she snarled.

“You’ll drop your scotch if you try and walk,” I warned.

Her eyes sparkled as she cuddled the bottle.

The moment had come at last and they took each other’s hands. Cheeks with skin transparent with age touched. They whispered something to each other; then kissed. The tears were mine.

May and I watched until the plane was no more than a point in the sky.

“We’ve made a promise to each other,” she said.

“Next time in Canada?” I suggested.

“No” she replied calmly. “To never see or speak or have news of each other ever again”

“Why!” I demanded, appalled.

A tear rolled down her wrinkled cheek.

“Because that way neither of us will ever know we were the last one left.”

© Bev Allen 2017

 

 

boeing-747-884432_960_7201

 

Florence Lester 1904-1907

One of my Grannies was totally adorable,  she was small and round and soft spoken, she had grey eyes and snow white hair.

The other one, the one who was born into poverty in the years between the death of Queen Victoria and World War One, was tall and had hair dyed the most improbable shade of black. Her eyes were brown and she had a tongue like a whip, she might not have been adorable, but she was never boring and she had a heart as big and brave  as a lion.

The stories I will tell you about her are almost true. This one is about her childhood in Nottingham where the men  and boys, if they had work, dug the coal from the ground and the women and the girls work in the lace factories.

 

Florence Lester 1904-1907

On bitter February afternoons in the days before central heating, the only place to be really warm was Gran’s back room where the fire hadn’t been allowed to go out since November.

I’d sit and watch the flames play over the coals and eventually tuck my heat mottled legs up under me away from the direct heat. The cat curled up the grate would open one baleful eye and glared at me, but he never moved even though the smell of burning fur sometimes scented the air as a spark landed on him.

As a favoured grandchild my comfort was enhanced by treats like crumpets to toast and lavish butter upon, or hot chocolate steaming in thick pottery mugs or, if all else failed, bags of toffee made pliable and yielding by the heat.

A piece I’d dropped on the rug had acquired a generous coat of cat hair, so I’d lobbed it into the back of the fire where it melted on the hot coals, adding the smell of burnt sugar to the ever present tang of Gran’s Woodbines.

After a while she flicked the long tail of grey ash off the end of her cigarette and said,

“It smelt like this before Florrie died.”

Turning away from my fire inspired day dreams I smiled up at her, thinking she must be as mazed by the heat as I was

“Florrie isn’t dead,” I said, “You spoke to her on the phone last week.”

She shook her head,

“Not that Florrie. My other sister Florence.”

“You had two sisters called Florence?”

She nodded, lighting another of the untipped cigarettes she would smoke all her long life.

“I remember her lying by the fire wrapped in a blanket. Mam had given her a sugar lollipop and every now and then she’d try and lift it to her mouth.”

Gran smiled, “I never took my eyes off it, just in case. I was about four and that jealous.”

I thought of the little she’d let me know about her childhood in that dirty old town in the years before The Great War.

“Wasn’t there one for you?”

“No,” Gran said, “I don’t know how Mam found the penny to buy it, not with my father and the drink.”

She drew on her cigarette.

“It seemed such a waste to me,” she said, “She’d give it a little lick, but she wasn’t enjoying it the way I would’ve. Eventually she dropped it and I was there like a shot, little guts that I was, but Mam shouted “No”, snatched it out of my hand before I got it in my gob and threw it on the fire.”

Our eyes met and we both knew in that moment old dead Mam had saved this daughter’s life.

The toffee on the fire bubbled and charred black.

“I don’t remember what happened after that,” Gran said, “She just wasn’t there anymore. And then, later, another Florrie came along.”

She gazed once more into the flames.

“Poor little soul. I’m the only one left alive who remembers her”

And just for a moment on that cold February afternoon, the small sister whose brief existence had made scarcely a dent in the passage of my Gran’s long life, lived again in the smell of sugar burning on a coal fire.

My Son, My Son

A new story.

Put the coffee on and your feet up.

 

My Son, My Son

 

A machine gave a sudden and unexpected burst of sound and she jumped in shock and terrible anticipation, but the noise stopped and no nurse or doctor rushed in response, so she assumed it wasn’t important.

But, her tired brain insisted, it is important, every line and every number on every monitor is important. This is my son lying here and he is dying.

She took his still hand, the one without the cannula and held it in a soft grip, her own hand shaking with fatigue. She’d not slept of what seemed like days and she’d been here ever since he went into surgery hours, hours ago. How long had he been in theatre? She didn’t know, time had become meaningless. At one point they had suggested she went home for a while, but she couldn’t leave him, not at a time like this.

She watched his face, hoping for some sign he was still there, still able to know her and remember what and who she was. As she held his hand and looked at the long fingers, so very like her own, she tried to remember every part of his life, as if by remembering she could hold it forever in amber. His birth over thirty years ago now, the pain and the fierce aching joy when they had laid him on her. She had counted his toes and those long fingers, loving every precious part of him. All she had wanted was to protect him and keep him safe, but now he was leaving her.

Many memories came flooding back, the little boy for whom walking was a whole new adventure, who came toddling towards her, arms out-stretched and laughing with delight; the little boy who learning to ride his first bike and shouting with pride when he climbed to the very top of the tall slide. The bigger boy who ran excitedly out onto the rugby pitch, who stepped confidently onto the stage and grinned at her from a dozen school photographs.

Then there was the young man in a cap and gown and the wonderful new job. Where had the years gone?

All the images wove themselves together and came back to this hospital bed and the unmoving form and the soft continuous buzz and blip of machines.

He was dying, her precious son was dying and all she could do was watch and wait.

A nurse came in, checked the machines, checked him and then asked if she needed anything. There was nothing, she couldn’t think of anything she could possibly need, but she automatically thanked the woman and never noticed when she went away.

Around her, behind the curtains ward life ran through its routine of checks and cleaning and medication and more checks, but she never noticed, her eyes and her mind were reserved for him, her precious son.

Her body must finally have betrayed her into sleep, because the pressure on her hand briefly confused her.

Their eyes met, one set dazed by drugs and pain, hers bright with tears.

“Is it over?” The voice was soft, barely a whisper.

“Yes, dear.”

“All gone?”

“Yes, dear.”

The smile crept across the pale face, a deep joy lifting the corners of the mouth. Then there was a deep contented sigh and sleep returned.

She thought as she watched, my son is dead – Freddy is dead, slain by his own will, but Felicity is now alive, as she always should have been.

I had a son, she thought, and I loved him more than life itself. I had a son, but he is dead and now I have a daughter. She looked down at the girl lying in the bed for a long time; then she bent over and kissed her.

(c) Bev Allen 2016